Civil Discourse Now

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An act of civil disobedience? A quote from Vonnegut on the stupidity of war and why the United States should not re-invade Iraq.

   In Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, on what commonly is called the “copyright page,” all are warned: “All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in connection with reviews written specifically for inclusion in a magazine or newspaper.”
   I now shall quote from Cat’s Cradle.  The use is not for a “review” of the work, first published in 1963. I quote Vonnegut for the truth of which he wrote.
   In the story, the United States Ambassador to the fictional island nation of San Lorenzo is about to throw a wreath onto the sea in commemoration of the island’s World War II martyrs. After he notes his own son died in the war, he says the “martyrs” were children:
   “‘I do not say that children at war do not die like men, if they have to die.  To their everlasting honor and our everlasting shame, they do die like men, thus making possible the manly jubilation of patriotic holidays.
   “‘But they are murdered children all the same.
   “‘And I propose to you that if we are to pay our sincere respects to the hundred lost children of San Lorenzo, that we might best spend the day despising what killed them; which is to say, the stupidity and viciousness of all mankind.
   “‘Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs.  That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns. ...
   “‘But if today is really in honor of a hundred children murdered in a war,’ he said, ‘is today a day for a thrilling show?
   “‘The answer is yes, on one condition: that we, the celebrants, are working consciously and tirelessly to reduce the stupidity and viciousness of ourselves and of all mankind.”
   Cat’s Cradle, Delacorte Press, 1963, pp. 180-81.
   I have not quoted Vonnegut for any type of review, but for the truth of what he wrote. If this is a violation of the license stated at the front of Cat’s Cradle, then I have committed a violation of copyright law—but a violation, I believe, Vonnegut would have overlooked were he still alive.     I quote Kurt Vonnegut—a veteran of World War II—for his statements about the stupidity of war. all
   Some today call for the United States to re-invade Iraq. A corrupt leader is in power in that country and United States vanity is thrown into doubt.
   Warfare usually is stupid. The United States invasion of Iraq was not a formally declared “war,” under the United States Constitution.  The United States has not fought an official “war” since World War II. But people were killed when we invaded. They were killed by military hardware operated by soldiers and sailors in the uniforms of the various branches of the United States military. That counts as a “war” to me.
  The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 for none of the reasons stated by members of the Bush administration. Saddam Hussein was not in cahoots with Al-Quaeda. Hussein was a secular leader. Al-Quaeda wants leaders who strive for theocracy. So there went the first reason advanced, and the one that struck a nerve so close to home so soon after the attacks on 9/11.
   Then came claims Hussein possessed “weapons of mass destruction.” He possessed them at one time. Our political and military leaders should have known as much. The United States supplied them to him. By 2001, however, those WMDs were gone. Sure, there were claims Hussein had tried to obtain “yellow cake,” uranium in an unrefined form, and aluminum tubes for centrifuges to produce weapons-grade material. Our political leqaders knew these claims were false when those political leaders made those claims.
   There are some who say we were right to overthrow a dictator who tortured and killed his own people. That is not a valid reason for invasion, when some of our “allies”—Saudi Arabia, comes to mind—are dictatorships who torture and kill their own people. We even have overthrown democratically elected governments to install murderous dictators when our beloved corporations have felt the need—Chile, 1973, as only one example.
   The chaos that now is daily life in Iraq is not a surprise. There were predictions at the time that nothing good could come from our destruction of a government that had kept in check multiple factions in a large country with hundreds of years of enmity between those factions.
   A right-wing person said to me a couple of years ago, “Mussolini made the trains run on time.” I question the accuracy of that statement, but it was made to justify authoritarian rule. In other words, fascism was okay because it led to a more efficient society.
   Saddam Hussein’s rule was not “okay,” but far preferable to the chaos we now see in Iraq.
   President Obama is being blamed by commentators on the right, maybe even some on the left, for his “handling” of Iraq. He was forced to “handle” a situation created by his predecessor.
   The reason the United States invaded Iraq was for the oil corporations and all the corporations that provide support to the oil industry. This war now has a projected, overall cost of six trillion dollars. A lot of that money went to corporations for war materiel. The main beneficiaries, though, were the shareholders in Royal Dutch Shell, BP, and other monoliths.
   Stupidity and viciousness have marked human history and its fascination with war. Vonnegut saw those qualities played out, up close and person, in World War II. While the United States was right to fight the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese Empire, World War II was a product of stupidity and viciousness—it was created, in large part, by World War I, unjust reparations forced on Germany, and a couple of millennia of antisemitism that Hitler unleashed through Reinhard Heydrich and others. (That last part, antisemitism, was a topic United States leaders avoided during World War II, out of fear the American people would think we somehow fought to save the lives of Jews. The United States turned away Jewish refugees.) World War I was an outcome of the Franco-Prussian War, in turn an noutcome of the Napoleonic wars, in turn an outcome of a couple of thousand years of class despotism by royalty of Europe.
   We have as little business to intervene in Iraq now as we did in 2003.
   If any “one” person is to blame for the situation in Iraq, it would be former President George W. Bush. He pushed the idea of invasion. We could expand the number of people responsible to include former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The problem is if we begin to do what some say should be done—prosecute as war criminals those responsible for the morass that exists in Iraq—we would set a precedent for automatic prosecution as a war criminal any person who leaves the office of President.
   Maybe the only recent President who could not be deemed a “war criminal” was Jimmy Carter. To his credit, and to the best of my knowledge, he did not commit United States military personnel to overseas debacles.
   Of course, Jimmy Carter—a graduate of the Naval Academy at Annapolis who served in the United States Navy—did not get re-elected, in part, because a significant number of the American electorate saw him as a “pussy” who would not go out there and kick ass. He was replaced by Ronald Reagan, who played roles of military officers in movies during World War II.    The United States should stay the hell out of Iraq. Our mistake was to invade the place. We should cut the defense budget by one-third, scrap a few aircraft carrier, move the military personnel to jobs building this country’s infrastructure, and give up the idea of acting as the Cop of the World.
   I think Kurt Vonnegut would have approved my use of the passage I quoted from one of his excellent novels. I only can hope people will wake up to the degree to which any further military incursion in Iraq is stupid. I doubt many oil corporation CEOs allowed their military-age children to fight in either Gulf War. That should tell one about the morality of the fight there.

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